Surgical face masks reduce the spread of airborne pathogens but also disturb the flow of information between individuals. The risk of getting seriously ill after infection with SARS-COV-2 during the present COVID-19 pandemic amplifies with age, suggesting that face masks should be worn especially during face-to-face contact with and between older people. However, the ability to accurately perceive and understand communication signals decreases with age, and it is currently unknown whether face masks impair facial communication more severely in older people. We compared the impact of surgical face masks on dynamic facial emotion recognition in younger (18–30 years) and older (65–85 years) adults (N = 96) in an online study. Participants watched short video clips of young women who facially expressed anger, fear, contempt or sadness. Faces of half of the women were covered by a digitally added surgical face mask. As expected, emotion recognition accuracy declined with age, and face masks reduced emotion recognition accuracy in both younger and older participants. Unexpectedly, the effect of face masks did not differ between age groups. Further analyses showed that masks also reduced the participants’ overall confidence in their emotion judgements, but not their performance awareness (the difference between their confidence ratings for correct and incorrect responses). Again, there were no mask-by-age interactions. Finally, data obtained with a newly developed questionnaire (attitudes towards face masks, atom) suggest that younger and older people do not differ in how much they feel impaired in their understanding of other people’s emotions by face masks or how useful they find face masks in confining the COVID-19 pandemic. In sum, these findings do not provide evidence that the impact of face masks on the decoding of facial signals is disproportionally larger in older people.

Surgical face masks do not impair the decoding of facial expressions of negative affect more severely in older than in younger adults

Pischedda D.
Writing – Review & Editing
;
2022-01-01

Abstract

Surgical face masks reduce the spread of airborne pathogens but also disturb the flow of information between individuals. The risk of getting seriously ill after infection with SARS-COV-2 during the present COVID-19 pandemic amplifies with age, suggesting that face masks should be worn especially during face-to-face contact with and between older people. However, the ability to accurately perceive and understand communication signals decreases with age, and it is currently unknown whether face masks impair facial communication more severely in older people. We compared the impact of surgical face masks on dynamic facial emotion recognition in younger (18–30 years) and older (65–85 years) adults (N = 96) in an online study. Participants watched short video clips of young women who facially expressed anger, fear, contempt or sadness. Faces of half of the women were covered by a digitally added surgical face mask. As expected, emotion recognition accuracy declined with age, and face masks reduced emotion recognition accuracy in both younger and older participants. Unexpectedly, the effect of face masks did not differ between age groups. Further analyses showed that masks also reduced the participants’ overall confidence in their emotion judgements, but not their performance awareness (the difference between their confidence ratings for correct and incorrect responses). Again, there were no mask-by-age interactions. Finally, data obtained with a newly developed questionnaire (attitudes towards face masks, atom) suggest that younger and older people do not differ in how much they feel impaired in their understanding of other people’s emotions by face masks or how useful they find face masks in confining the COVID-19 pandemic. In sum, these findings do not provide evidence that the impact of face masks on the decoding of facial signals is disproportionally larger in older people.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11571/1492235
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